Department of the Interior

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has released more details about his plan to reorganize the Department of Interior. The plan could have big impacts for public lands in the west.

 


Some Steamboat Springs, Colorado residents are welcoming the Interior Department Secretary with a protest Friday evening.  Ryan Zinke is the keynote speaker at the Steamboat Institute’s annual ‘Freedom Conference,’ a private event.

The Interior Department is once again facing change in agency leadership. The acting head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stepped down. 

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk held a virtual press conference on Thursday addressing his retirement on September 29, 2018.

The head of Yellowstone National Park is leaving his post next month after the Trump administration forced him to either take a transfer to D.C. or retire early.

When our Mountain West News Bureau first broke that news in June, Superintendent Dan Wenk said he felt “abused” by the U.S. Interior Department.

But during a press conference Thursday, he mellowed his tone.

Bighorn sheep
Magnus Kjaergaard via Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Federal mineral leasing has increased under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. But it looks like he has a soft spot for bighorn sheep. Last week, the Department of Interior announced plans to renew a mineral withdrawal for the Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Sheep. A mineral withdrawal limits mining activity.

National parks tourism pumped nearly $36 billion into the U.S. economy last year, and communities just outside the parks benefited the most. That’s where more than 330 million visitors dropped more than $18-billion-dollars and supported 255 thousand jobs.

Department of the Interior

Too many decisions about the West get made in Washington, D.C. At least, that's what the Secretary of the Interior thinks. Ryan Zinke plans to move thousands of the department’s employees out west to manage water, public lands and energy from there. How might this seemingly dull, bureaucratic plan affect the West in interesting ways? Here's how people with a vested interest responded–starting in Wyoming.  


National Parks Service

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's call to increase peak-season entrance fees at 17 popular national parks appears to be an unpopular idea. The overwhelming majority of submitted comments were strongly opposed to it. Now, the National Park Service is rethinking the plan.

Craigh Okraska - Wild Horses

The citizen board for the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program will not meet this month as planned. The board gives advice to the BLM about how to manage the species on federal lands. The cancellation is frustrating for members who said the agency has given no response to its recommendations for two years.

Oil and gas drilling on Jay Butler's property in Converse County
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

A major oil and gas project has taken a step forward with the end of its public comment period last week. The 5,000 well project covers over 1.5 million acres in Converse County, and received 110 comments following the release of its draft environmental impact statement, or EIS. 

Joe Riis

Wyoming and most of the Western landscape are part of big game animal migrations. Migratory herd of elk, deer, pronghorn, bison or bighorn sheep travel aggregated routes between their season ranges. Recently thanks to the research of scientists - including Arthur Middleton of the University of California, Berkeley, it has been found these corridors contain important stopover habitats where the animals rest and find food. So - if these routes are blocked it would stop these animals ability to recover after a winter season.

The Department of the Interior is outlining steps aimed at increasing energy production on federal lands. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says boosting production of resources like oil and gas creates jobs and enhances the nation’s energy security.

Jackson Hole’s annual SHIFT Festival kicked off this week with Native American leaders defending Bears Ears National Monument. Each year, SHIFT gathers outdoor enthusiasts from around the nation. This year, Native American leaders took center stage.

Western Values Project

A Montana-based environmental watchdog group is hoping to uncover e-mails from energy lobbyists and the Interior Department.

The Western Values Project is concerned coordination between the federal land management agency and representatives from the energy industry resulted in proposed changes to the sage grouse management plans.  

Cooper McKim

  

Energy companies, environmentalists, ranchers and government officials are getting back together at meetings across the West this fall to talk about the fate of a chicken-like bird.

 

Many of these so-called stakeholders have sat at this table before. The well-being of the Greater Sage Grouse was the focus of a hard-fought compromise among 11 states, finalized a few years ago.

 

Sage Grouse Implementation Team meeting, 09/15/17
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

The sage grouse implementation team met for the first time since the Department of Interior announced recommendations to a collaborative state and federal Obama era plan. But early last month, DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended changes to the plan that would loosen restrictions on energy development while giving states more flexibility in implementing their own sage grouse protection plans.

A greater sage-grouse male struts for a female at a lek (dancing or mating ground) near Bridgeport, CA
Jeannie Stafford / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead is concerned about the Interior Department’s recommendations to the sage grouse conservation plans. The federal agency released a report this week outlining recommendations to the 2015 plan, including giving states more leniency in enforcing the rules and changing the focus from habitat management to population goals.

A male Sage Grouse (also known as the Greater Sage Grouse) in the USA
Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Sacramento, US

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to make fundamental changes to a sage grouse conservation plan adopted under the Obama administration. They could make it easier for ranchers and energy companies to move into sagebrush habitat that’s now off limits. 

The sign at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park
Wikimedia Commons: Guerillero

The Department of Interior will contribute $53 million to the National Park Service this year with funds going to 42 parks including Grand Teton and Yellowstone. The goal of the incoming money will be to address high priority maintenance projects. For Yellowstone, that means improving trails, retaining walls, and overlooks for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Stephanie Joyce

Newly minted Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke just took a massive step towards streamlining the permitting process for oil and gas drilling on federal lands. Wyoming lawmakers love the move, but Democrats fear it’s a dangerous first step down a slippery slope.   

United States Department of the Interior

The Department of Interior is facing budget cuts of $1.6 billion. A summary of the proposed budget shows reductions in wildlife management while boosting funds for oil and gas development. Conservationists say this will have an effect here in Wyoming.

The proposed budget would reduce funding for endangered species, fisheries and wildlife management including almost $30 million less for sage grouse protection. It would also increase funds for programs ensuring oil and gas management while reducing permitting fees.

Wikimedia Commons - Paul Lenz

In his last days in office, President Obama adopted a ban on lead ammunition for hunting to protect scavengers from lead poisoning. Last week, as one of his first acts in office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lifted that ban.

Numerous scientific studies show that eagles, ravens, condors and other scavengers that feed on carcasses killed with lead bullets have a much higher likelihood of lead poisoning. Natural Science curator Charles Preston at the Draper Museum in Cody said that can cause problems with bird reproduction and can even kill them.

Wikimedia Commons

President Elect Donald Trump has reportedly asked Montana U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke to be the nation’s next Interior Secretary. The Interior Secretary is tasked with the conservation and management of federal lands, national parks, and natural resources in the United States.

Zinke was an early supporter of Trump. As a member of congress, he has supported the Land and Water Conservation Fund and keeping public lands under federal control, but is also a proponent of logging and energy development on those lands.

Lingjing Bao

Although there was hope among Wyomingites that Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis would be tapped by President elect Trump for Interior Secretary, it appears that position will go to Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers instead.

Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

The fight over the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota has brought to the fore tensions over whether tribes are adequately consulted about development that could affect them. Now, the Secretary of the Interior has issued an order addressing that.

Secretary Sally Jewell’s order directs agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to collaborate more with tribes on resource management.

Stephanie Joyce

Senators from Wyoming, Colorado and North Dakota are among those asking the government to suspend its review of the federal coal program.

In January, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a comprehensive review of the federal coal program, and a moratorium on new coal leasing while that review is underway.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

New rules from the Department of the Interior aim to close what many have called a loophole in how federal coal resources are valued.

Most of the coal mined in Wyoming is owned by the federal government. Companies pay royalties for the right to mine that coal—in theory, 12.5 percent of the sale price.

Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

A U.S. District Court judge in Wyoming has struck down a rule that would have governed fracking on federal lands.

Judge Scott Skavdahl concluded in his ruling that the Department of the Interior does not have the authority to regulate fracking and called the attempt to do so an “end-run” around the 2005 Energy Policy Act. That law explicitly exempted fracking from regulation by another arm of the executive branch—the Environmental Protection Agency.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

  

In President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, there was a line that caught the ear of people in the energy industry.

“I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet,” he said.

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